When is a Witness Testimony Unreliable in Singapore?
A witness is someone who has seen/heard or knows something about a case or an accused and could include a victim of the case.
As a witness in a court proceeding, you may be required to give a testimony (i.e. evidence) in court.
However, a witness testimony may be deemed unreliable by the judge in certain circumstances, and this could affect the outcome of the case. This article will explain:
- When is a witness testimony deemed unreliable
- When witness testimony is considered unreliable in specifically sexual assault cases
- When is a witness testimony considered reliable
- What happens if the witness testimony is proven to be unreliable
- What you can do if you suspect that someone’s testimony is unreliable
- Whether the witness will be charged with an offence for giving unreliable testimony
- Whether you should engage a lawyer
When is a Witness Testimony Deemed Unreliable?
Essentially, a testimony is unreliable when it is inconsistent, and the judge will decide whether the testimony given is unreliable based on all the circumstances of the case. The following are ways that a testimony can be inconsistent:
- Testimony being a form of premeditated fabrication, an embellishment, confusion (i.e. the witness is unsure of the sequence of events) or a combination of these;
- Witnesses communicating with each other with the intent to have the same story for the police or court, leading to contamination of their testimonies or;
- Lying in the testimony.
However, one-off inconsistencies because the witness cannot remember some details do not automatically render the testimony unreliable.
When is a Witness Testimony Unreliable in Sexual Assault Cases?
Witness testimony can be unreliable in sexual assault cases when the witness adds significant details to the statement made in court, which were not made in the earlier police statements. These details may be new information that does not logically fit within the sequence of events described in the police statements.
An example would be a case involving a man who was accused of molesting a woman on an SIA flight from Japan in June 2019. He was accused of touching the thigh and groin area of the woman sitting next to him during the flight. The woman who had allegedly been molested had to testify in court so that the judges could ascertain what happened during the flight.
However, the woman’s testimony was found to be inconsistent as her earlier statements to the police were “critically different” than the ones made in court. The woman was not able to explain why she had new and vivid details later in court, but not in her police statements. These new details included calling a police officer friend after the event, yet not telling her friend about the incident.
She was not able to explain to the court why she did not tell her police officer friend about the sexual assault immediately after it happened, nor explain why she did not mention this detail in the police statements. The significant inconsistency in the two statements made her evidence unreliable to the extent that the accused was acquitted.
In cases where the only evidence is the victim’s testimony, the witness’s testimony must also be “unusually convincing”. This is sometimes the situation in sexual assault cases, where the only evidence in front of the court is the victim’s testimony as to what happened.
For the testimony to be “unusually convincing”, it has to be so convincing that the prosecution is able to prove its case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt solely on the basis of such evidence. Learn more about the “unusually convincing” test in our other article.
When is a Witness Testimony Considered Reliable?
In contrast, witness testimony is generally considered reliable when it is consistent, and the witness is clear and coherent in his or her evidence. This means that there are no contradictions in the testimony, no new and vivid details in the testimony from previous statements made to authorities, and the witness is honest in their testimony.
Using the earlier molest case as an example, the man’s testimony was considered reliable because it was consistent. He gave many details of his actions in his testimony, such as giving the woman his contact number, where these actions would not have made sense if he had indeed molested her.
What Happens If the Witness Testimony is Proven to be Unreliable?
Depending on how unreliable the testimony is, the judge will decide how much weight it should be given. In other words, the judge will decide how much importance to give to that testimony when making his/her decision on the case.
Although an unreliable testimony may still be admissible in court, it may be less impactful on the judge’s decision where there are other reliable testimonies present. However, when the testimony is crucial to the case pleaded, but it is found to be unreliable, this can have a significant impact on the outcome of the case.
In the case of the alleged molestation discussed above, the accused was acquitted due to the sole witness’ (also the victim) testimony being unreliable.
What Can I Do If I Suspect a Witness Testimony to be Unreliable?
If you suspect that a witness testimony is unreliable, you can inform your lawyer. Your lawyer can then impeach the credit of the witness under section 157 of the Evidence Act.
The purpose of impeaching a witness’ credit is to undermine his/her credibility so as to convince the court that the testimony should not be believed. The witness’ credit can be impeached by showing that the witness:
- Is of such a character and moral make-up that he/she is incapable of speaking the whole truth under oath
- Has been bribed
- Has given testimony that is inconsistent with his/her former statements
Will the Witness be Charged With an Offence?
When giving testimony, you have a duty of honest disclosure. This means you have to tell the truth. If a witness were to intentionally misrepresent a truth or lie in a court proceeding, he/she may be charged with perjury.
Perjury is a criminal offence under section 193 of the Penal Code and offenders can be punished up to 7 years’ jail and a fine.
Should I Engage a Lawyer?
If you are being represented in a court case and think that the testimony provided by a witness on the opposing side of the case is unreliable, you should inform your lawyer who can then attempt to impeach the credibility of the witness.
If you are a witness in a court case (be it a civil or criminal case), you can also consider consulting a lawyer to receive advice on your duties of honest disclosure to the court.
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